Laboratory Research

Laboratory Research encompasses the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics, the Genomics Program, Structural Botany, and Laboratory Collections. Highly advanced facilities support research by Garden scientists, postdoctoral researchers, graduate students, visiting scientists, technical staff, and interns. Laboratory research complements traditional field, herbarium, and literature research about plants and allows for critical and exhaustive investigation, experimentation, and discovery.

Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Program for
Molecular Systematics

The Cullman Program focuses plant molecular research on the global scientific effort to assemble the evolutionary tree of life (family tree) for all plants on Earth, past and present. Assembling the tree of life requires a very close understanding of the relationships of specific plants to each other. The expertise of the Cullman Curators is spread across the plant kingdom, from the earliest branches of the green algae and land plants, through the gymnosperms, to the major branches of the flowering plants. To elucidate the evolutionary placement of fossil species on the tree of life, the work of the Cullman Program intersects with that of the Structural Botany laboratory. In partnership with the American Museum of Natural History, the Cullman Program looks at plant-animal interactions at the level of the molecule. On the applied side, the Program focuses effort on using DNA barcodes as a species identity-tag. Find out more information

Thick developing fruit walls of tomato (left). Fruit walls with hard woody layers of its relative flowering tobacco (right). The Genomics Program is using high throughput transcriptome sequencing to identify genes that determine whether a fruit will be fleshy and edible or dry and woody.

Genomics Program

The Genomics Program focuses on exploring and understanding the genes responsible for evolutionary innovations—such as origin of the leaf or fleshiness in fruits—seen on the plant portion of the tree of life (family tree). It also looks at how genetic diversity within plant populations is being affected by human interventions such as climate change and forest fragmentation. In combination with the Structural Botany laboratory, the Genomics Program is leading development of the Plant Ontology, a common-language database for facilitating communication about plant traits across all subdisciplines of plant science. As part of the New York Plant Genomics Consortium, the Program is exploiting genome diversity to discover new genes involved in the development of seeds. Find out more information

Structural Botany

Leaf clearing of Dioscorea caucasica (Dioscoreaceae). Garden scientists have played a central role in the recent development of leaf architecture, and particularly leaf venation, as a powerful tool in various aspects of pure and applied plant research.

Structural botany investigates the form and function of plants. It complements and aids other plant research by shedding light on the very specific characteristics used to identify and classify plants, determine how they grow, and determine their evolutionary pathways. It plays a pivotal role in placing fossil plant species on the evolutionary tree of life when DNA is no longer available. Structural botany also aids conservation by looking at how plant forms and functions may be changing in response to environmental pressures. With the Genomics Program, the Structural Botany laboratory is leading development of the Plant Ontology, a common-language database for facilitating communication about plant traits across all subdisciplines of plant science. Find out more information

Laboratory Collections

Diverse laboratory collections housed in the Pfizer Plant Research Laboratory complement vouchered plant collections in the Garden’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium and are fundamental resources for the Garden’s various programs in laboratory research. Laboratory collections include DNA collections, liquid-preserved collections, and microscope slides, among others. Find out more information

Staff botanist Daniel Atha preparing three collections—herbarium voucher, sample for DNA extraction, and liquid-preserved collection of flowers—of early crocus (Crocus tommasinianus, Iridaceae) on the grounds of the Botanical Garden.